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David Poland

By David Poland

The A. Klein Of Western Civilization

Andy Klein has always been a very good film critic. But in the last six month or so, he has been on fire. I think, ironically, the war in Iraq has been really, really good for him. He is an angry young man again and he is willing to put it out there, hard and strong, and as close to reckless as you can get without being reckless.
(Disclosure: I have agreed with him on many of the reviews I find so amusing. But I have also appreciated many of the reviews on which there is disagreement. He is just plain putting it out there.)
Andy’s work is not well archived at L.A. City Beat, but you can read through it at Rotten Tomatoes.
This week, it

30 Responses to “The A. Klein Of Western Civilization”

  1. LYT says:

    The A. Klein Of Western Civilization
    Took me a moment. Good one.
    As someone who has edited Andy and been edited by him, I can attest that the man deserves all the props he can get. But I don’t think he’s a young man “again” – he’s always maintained a youthful sensibility that can appreciate the visceral and the fun, while still being able to dissect intricate art-house releases with a maturity that comes with age.
    I think getting mad at 300 for being like the Iraq war is a bit of a stretch, but it makes for an entertaining read.

  2. Richard Nash says:

    What does everyone expect here? Its source material is a comic book.

  3. Jimmy the Gent says:

    Can we have a separate thread on the Tarantino YouTube clips you posted?
    I think a discussion of Tarantino as one of the most perceptive critics is worth having. For all his bravado and sometimes annoying mannerisms, QT displays one of the smartest, most analytical minds on cinema we have. His analysis of DeNiro’s early years is dead-on.
    He’s also right about The Deer Hunter, one of the most underrated and misunderstood of modern American movies.

  4. RP says:

    DP, check out the LA Weekly’s review of “300,” if you haven’t already seen it:

  5. RP says:

    Re: Tarantino on DeNiro, wouldn’t it be nice if QT wrote another part for DeNiro? It’s been 10 years since “Jackie Brown” and three years since QT’s last feature, period, and what do we have to look forward to? “Grindhouse.” Great. I’m a patient man (waiting a decade for Coppola; someone give him a distribution deal for “Youth” ASAP!), but these are some prime creative years, and the time wasting by QT might warrant a charge of crime against cinema.

  6. Martin S says:

    Poland, let me start with a compliment. You deserve credit for keeping your dislike of 300 to the film. Kudos on doing your job – critiquing a movie based on the merits of the movie. What a crazy idea.
    I’ve spent the past two nights reading all the 300 reviews, and it’s beyond apparent why this line of work is staring at Siskel’s grave. Those who like it have one of two reasons; action-excitement or because of its slavishness to Miller’s graphic novel. Not the best reasons.
    But nothing is more asinine than the run of bad reviews like Kleins, or Fearci’s at CHUD, or the goof at Slate. These aren’t negative critique’s, they’re polemics that stop reviewing the film about two paragraphs in and decide to skewer Snyder over Iraq with some of the most schizoid reasoning one could find.
    Here’s the breakdown; Even though Snyder stated time and again he just wanted to make a tight action film, reviewers start by holding it against him for not making 300 clearly for-or-against “the war” and for not drawing out the historical parallels.
    So left with this concocted ambiguity, said reviewers decide to venture down the masturbatory road and jerk one out as to why Snyder *really* did this. At this point, the pieces begin to unravel into these conclusions:
    A) Frank Miller’s a fascist so Snyder must be
    B) Snyder wants war with Iran
    C) Snyder supports “The War”
    and then things really fall apart as each searches for visual clues where none exist. Spartans are white and built, Persians are everything else – and on and on and on…
    And what do we get? Projection. Each one of these reviewers either openly sides with or shows sympathy for, the Persians. Why? Because the visual message hits them subconsciously. Very simply, the Spartans are the jocks, so the Persians must be the freaks-n-geeks. This overrides whatever story-established character motivations and forces the reviewer to delve into the great morass of moral ambiguity. And what better way to wallow in this than to cherry pick what aspects of the film represent the evil administration. Never mind that the parallels don’t work. Just spit ’em out.
    What I’m amazed about is how many of these “critics” forget that the title “graphic novel” is just pretty-talk for “expensive comic book”, and that comics are male youth mythology. So instead of revieweing it for what it is, like Poland did or Garth at DH will, we get personal vidictivness because of deep-seated feelings of inequality.
    The LAWeekly review is good because it’s concise.

  7. jeffmcm says:

    RP, I can see your point, but I’m perfectly happy to let QT do what he wants to do. I think of it like this: several filmmakers could have made Jackie Brown, but only Tarantino could have made Kill Bill.
    Besides, DeNiro was all but wasted in Jackie Brown. It would be great to see him picking some juicier roles, but if the tradeoff is more movies like The Good Shepherd, I’ll take it.

  8. jeffmcm says:

    Martin, without having seen 300 yet, I think you’re being overly assertive in presenting your thesis.
    Let me put it this way: a mass-audience war movie, made at a time of war, will have _some_ kind of interesting subtext happening. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. If the point of 300 is to show what a war looks like when it’s an idealized fantasy notion with clear-cut good guys and bad guys, that says something about the kind of mythologizing mainstream America would like to see. Right? I’m sure there are critics going overboard, but I’m sure there are also critics who are hitting the nail on the head.

  9. Tofu says:

    It should be noted that neither Miller or Snyder shied away from showing just how brutal Spartans are on themselves, so calling them straight “good guys” is a stretch, and Snyder has stated as such in interviews. While I believe Miller gets his rocks off to the fascist Spartan mentality, it is becoming clear that Snyder simply accepts that as history and was in it for the imagery and action.
    Oh, and the Persians? Fuck them too.

  10. Blackcloud says:

    There are plenty of good reasons to tell the Spartans to go fuck themselves. Most of said reasons are fundamental principles of modern Western civilization. But they have nothing to do with Iraq. Klein is right on principle, wrong in his argument.
    Gorgo was Leonidas’ niece. Given that I haven’t seen it mentioned in any of the reviews, I’m guessing it isn’t mentioned in the movie.

  11. Nicol D says:

    I have not seen 300 but I must say this seems like the worst of ideologically driven reviews.
    He discredits the film artistically in the first half only to buy himself credit to trash it ideologically in the second half.
    Which of course then undermines is artistic criticisms in the first half.
    Feel free to not like a film, but Klein seems to not like it only for ideological reasons. I may not agree with Michael Moore but I must state he has talent.
    Similarly, Klein seems unwilling to see the film outside of his own world view. Different battles are fought in history for different reasons. For him to infer that 300 MUST take a side that is anti-Iraq in order to be good or even relevant is childish and sophomoric.
    I have not read Andy Klein at all before this and am quite sure after, I will never read him again.

  12. Nicol D says:

    “If the point of 300 is to show what a war looks like when it’s an idealized fantasy notion with clear-cut good guys and bad guys, that says something about the kind of mythologizing mainstream America would like to see.”
    Is this film aimed at ‘mainstream America’ or 15 year old boys who want to see a ‘cooooool’ film with ‘cooool’ FX on opening weekend before going home to eat Doritos by the X-Box?
    Seems your doing some projection here.

  13. jeffmcm says:

    Nicol: What’s the difference?

  14. Nicol D says:

    Are you are saying you believe that if 15 year old fan boys love a 2 dimensional FX battle monster movie and the industry targets them as a demographic that all of American society should be judged by that standard?
    Explain, please.

  15. jeffmcm says:

    I’m saying, I believe the children are our future.
    And no movie can make its money exclusively on the dollars of teenage boys. Remember that 300 is R-rated, for one thing. Any and every popular movie is a window into a nation’s subconscious.

  16. Nicol D says:

    I hardly think the R-rating will be a deterrant.
    “Any and every popular movie is a window into a nation’s subconscious.”
    I would argue that it is a window into those who made it and those who consume it. But within those, there are various contradictions and differences.
    It may be a window…but there are many many windows in the house that lead to different views and perspectives.
    To say one window reflects on all of those who live in the house is a gross over-generalization.

  17. jeffmcm says:

    I think it’s a useful generalization within the terms of film criticism. I think it should be obvious that I don’t blatantly mean ‘If movie X makes point Y, then all of American society is corrupt’, but rather that ‘if movie X makes point Y then it’s revealing about the true feelings in the American psyche.’ This is psychology, which is an inexact, but useful, tool.
    Otherwise, you sound like one of those relativists we’ve heard so much talk about lately.

  18. Nicol D says:

    “…but rather that ‘if movie X makes point Y then it’s revealing about the true feelings in the American psyche.'”
    Change your statement to this…
    “…but rather that ‘if movie X makes point Y then it’s revealing about > the true feelings in the American psyche.” and I’ll agree.
    It does not reveal anything certain about ALL of American society because not all American society has the power to make, consume oe influence films. It also does not account for the variety of reasons why people see movies.
    The Passion was one of the highest grossing hits in American history. But waitaminute…so was The DaVinci Code. People love 24….but a lot also love Michael Moore.
    And all of those films/shows have overlap audiences.
    What then can we definitively say about American society other than it is complex and vast and diverse with a whole variety of opinion jockeying to be heard. Some just more successfully than others.

  19. Nicol D says:

    This should read,
    Change your statement to this…
    “…but rather that ‘if movie X makes point Y then it’s revealing about SOME OF the true feelings in the American psyche.” and I’ll agree.

  20. jeffmcm says:

    You’re just repeating what I said in my last post.

  21. LYT says:

    The issue at hand isn’t whether you AGREE with Andy, or any other critic, since you’ll never agree with any critic 100%. The issue is whether or not you can get a good idea from his review whether you’ll like it or not (a secondary point is whether his review is entertaining to read, and it is). And I believe you can — I think he’s pretty clear about what it is, and I think it’s quite likely that I’ll enjoy it based on what he says, even though he didn’t.

  22. Martin S says:

    I agree with your first post. What I’m tired of is people not being able to do thier jobs. Klein’s review has no criteria so it becomes a polemic. Poland’s review, while glib, is making a comment about how there’s no there, there, to talk about in the first place.
    I think the perfect example of someone doing thier job is Garth at Dark Horizons. Look at his review for the bag-o-crap Ghost Rider. Instead of venturing off into la-la land because he was bored by how bad the movie was, he dismantles why it is bad. That though, is not as much fun as being prickish, bitchy and snarky, (see – everything at CHUD).
    I don’t have a problem with someone trying to put a war movie in context, but every review that’s tried it so far fails because the reviewers cannot reach their desired goals with 300, which is to say it’s an anti-Iraq, anti-war, anti-Bush screed. So Klein, like the guy at Slate, decide to rail on Snyder for not making the movie they wanted to review. WTF.

  23. jeffmcm says:

    Depends on what you think their ‘jobs’ are. I’d rather read a review that describes how the film fits in with the whole of American movie-going culture than does what most reviews do – reiterate the plot, give a couple of production notes, and give a thumbs up/thumbs down over the course of 600 words.
    When I see the movie I’ll have more of an opinion.

  24. Cadavra says:

    The true sign of a great critic is when he/she disagrees with you on a film, yet makes his/her case compelling enough that even though you disagree, you understand and respect his/her take on the picture. (Hope that doesn’t read too awkwardly.)

  25. Devin Faraci says:

    Martin S, I liked the film. I gave it a good review and a good rating. I just found the political subtext too interesting to ignore, so I talked about it. Sorry that I attempted to think about the movie, won’t make that mistake in the future!

  26. EDouglas says:

    To say that 300 is anti-war, anti-Bush or anti-Iraq is kind of ridiculous since the original graphic novel was created before ANY of that (even before 9/11)… any political context to the current situation in the country was either deliberately inserted or ignored by Snyder… or simply superimposed on the movie by the viewer because really, you can draw parallels between ALL wars and regimes with our current one.

  27. Martin S says:

    I stopped going to CHUD on a regular basis because you, more than anyone else, decided to turn everything into a political pissing match. You’re more into advocacy and social justice than film and if your readers don’t like it, your attitude is screw ’em.
    Since I didn’t email you, or post anything at CHUD, but you still felt the need to come over here and respond, (which makes me wonder what the point of the CHUD boards are), let me quote something you wrote:
    “Or could Xerxes be Bush? After all, he

  28. Devin Faraci says:

    You seem stupid, Martin S.

  29. Blackcloud says:

    ^ Now there’s an argument built on irrefutable evidence and unassailable logic.

  30. Devin Faraci says:

    For the record, intellectual midget Martin S selectively quotes me, leaving out not only the PARAGRAPHS going on about Leonidas as Bush, Gorgo using “freedom is not free” in her speech, etc, but he also leaves out the intro to that section:
    “But what

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon